Will You Take Jesus Home?
Old Testament: Isaiah 9:2-7
Epistle: Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
Take a deep breath. Try to let a smile fill your face. I know how busy you have been all day, and I know that very few of us are even finished yet. There are still packages to wrap, food to prepare, a checklist running in our heads of things that need to get packed, people to greet; Lord, this Christmas time is busy.
It has been hard to make time to think about Jesus today. After all, it is just a celebration of his birth, and we do not know the actual date the baby Jesus was born. What should we think anyway?
We might think symbolically. A baby is a symbol of life. A baby is a reminder of the promise of tomorrow. A baby is an invitation to see the world with fresh eyes. As we raise children, we revisit wonder, and imagination, and the roots of our beliefs.
The prophet Isaiah, who has walked through so much of this season with us, proclaims that a child is born. This child is the one who will make the world a better place. This is the child that will disturb the status quo and usher in peace, and justice and hope; all of which are in short supply on December 24th, 2016. Let us pause for a moment to consider the possibility of peace, justice and hope breaking into our “real world.”
The evangelist Titus says God will train us to renounce all selfish ambitions, and become zealous for good deeds. A good part of what we come to church for is to inspire and be inspired to do good deeds. Church people, as imperfect as we all are, are also among the most likely folks to be invested in projects and groups that do good deeds for others. This night, as we take the time to pause in our busy-ness, we allow the thought of Emmanuel, God-with-us, training us to align our hearts with the values long expressed by the prophets of old.
And our reliable friend Luke provides the telling of the birth narrative. Last week we laughed - that Matthew’s account holds a few important ideas, but it lacked the drama and embellishments required to build a meaningful and emotional Christmas Eve service. So even in the year of Matthew, we pull out the gospel of Luke.
The story is familiar, but in the quiet of the evening, when the decorative lights twinkle, when the light of the Advent and Christ candles can actually be perceived, maybe we can get in touch with the God who gives us hope for our souls, hope for our community, hope for a world where peace, and justice can live and breathe and inspire good works breaking out all around the world.
This is where symbolism gives way to reality. Maybe all goodness has not died. Maybe, God will inspire the hearts of humanity to care for one another. This event that we celebrate is not an escape from reality. The entire point is that God does not hide from reality in a perfect heaven, waiting to reward a select few perfect souls.
There are no perfect souls, but there is perfect love. Perfect love sets aside the need for perfection in order to be present - God with us - in this real and imperfect world. God does not appear with power, majesty and intimidation. Lets be honest folks; power, majesty and intimidation are the artifacts of selfishness and greed.
This night is set aside in our faith tradition to sit in the quiet and contemplate the very real love God has for creation. God loves all of creation. God understands that this life is imperfect.
The infant is born to an unwed mother, away from home, in a borrowed stable. We do not know what happens to Joseph, the parent of Jesus, but he is written out of the script early in the life of Jesus. Perfect love does not depend on power, majesty and intimidation. Just saying.
It helps us to remember these things. It helps us to remember that Jesus did not come to start a new religion, even though the Christian religion is the most visible way of finding the tradition of Jesus in the world. It helps to remember that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love for all of Creation; not only for the Christians, and not only for people.
We are people of faith because we have experienced the presence of God in our lives. We believe in God, because we know that goodness still is alive in this world. We look at these ancient scriptures, to learn how and where to look for the presence of God, the God-with-us, that helps us to endure anxiety, tragedy, pain, and disappointment.
We come together to inspire each other to be faithful, and to pray for each other. I often remark how God seems to respond more quickly and effectively when I pray for the concerns of others - than when I pray for my own concerns. We all know individuals who have a great God-connection. If you get on their prayer list, good things happen. We can all be that for each other.
In just these simple ways, the quiet remembering of a child born reminds us of; the power of love, and the power of prayer, and the power of community.
Having a child born 2000 years ago and far away, changes nothing. But when the presence of that Christ, leaves here tonight with you, the whole world begins to change.
So may God bless you. May you be aware of the presence of God, a presence that gives you a sense of peace in anxious moments. May God grant you the vision to see the blessings you prayed for - evident in the lives of those around you. And may God make you a blessing to others, which is the most effective way I know - to live a life of peace and love. Merry Christmas! May the peace of God, the blessings of God, the very presence of God, the God we best know through Jesus - go home with you tonight, and accompany each step you take from this day forward. Amen.
A Christmas Confidence
Epistle: Titus 3:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20
May the deep peace of Christmas, the day we set aside to mark the presence of God here among us, rest on you gently. May you be inspired to be hopeful, and a source of hope to those around you. May you be inspired to seek grace and recognize blessings, as your attitude has a profound effect on your family, your neighbors and your co-workers.
When we look around the space of our lives, and try to name our blessings, blessings seem to appear. When we live, expecting God to be present, we become aware of the holiness that surrounds us.
I have been promising that 20-page sermon for this morning, but I know none of you believed I would actually do that. I was going to prove you wrong, but maybe another time.
Instead, we will sing songs of joy. We will think about not only the birth of the infant Jesus, but think about putting on our Party Clothes to celebrate the Second Coming of the Christ Child, to usher in - the Kingdom of God, the world without end. God with us, means one thing on a Christmas morning, but will have a totally different meaning on that glorious day when Christ comes again.
In our preparation for Christmas we came face to face with our own failures and sinfulness, and visualized ourselves as the good thief, not asking for what we deserve, but instead asking for love and forgiveness. More than anything else, it is in our humble awareness of our failures - that qualifies us for God’s love and forgiveness.
As critical thinkers, we know that our lives are an imperfect model of God’s perfect love. We hesitate to offer ourselves as an example, especially in a small town, where everyone thinks they know everyone else’s business.
But the truth that is exposed today, is that we can cheerfully claim to represent God’s love, because we are not alone. God is with us. The presence of the all-powerful God is expressed in perfect love, that chose to dwell among the imperfect in the world. We step forward, not because our lives can pass inspection, but because the name Jesus means, “God Saves,” and Emmanuel means “God with Us.”
In our humility, and in our confession of sin, we are rewarded with the peace of Christ; we are gifted with abundant blessings to share; we are compelled by our joyful acceptance of forgiveness, to share with other sinners. There is no need to let sin isolate us from the community and the presence of God. The coming of Christ to Creation, first as the infant Jesus; and then when the time is complete, as the redeeming Savior; makes the whole Creation a sacred place, and blesses everything and everyone that is in it.
Confident that God is with us, we can preach and teach love and forgiveness, even as we stand with those who need forgiveness. Confident that God is with us, we can recognize and share blessings, even as those who depend on blessings. Confident that God is with us, we continue our praise and singing, even with tired and imperfect voices. Amen.